Amy reflects on a decade without her younger brother, Michael

Our wonderful Grief Support Services volunteer facilitator, Amy (pictured right), lost her younger brother (Michael, pictured left) to suicide ten years ago. We thank you, Amy, for sharing your story with us and other loss survivors.

The 10th anniversary of my brother Michael’s death by suicide was on April 19 of this year. When he took his own life, he was just two weeks shy of his 14th birthday.

Michael and I were 12 years apart in age. At the time he was born, I began experiencing the symptoms of depression and anxiety – mental illnesses I still struggle with today. As he grew, so did I – graduating high school, then heading off to college at UMass Amherst. After college, I moved back home, which went hand in hand with a major depressive episode. I was trying desperately to self-medicate away with alcohol and questionable choices. It’s safe to say that my relationships with my family members were the worst they had ever been. Luckily, I sought help by seeing a psychiatrist for the first time, getting a diagnosis, and finally going on medication.

In the months before Michael took his own life, we were starting to develop a relationship. We would text each other about bands we were listening to, video games we were playing, and just general goofiness. His birthday was coming up and I was so excited because I was going to surprise him with a trip to visit me in Boston. I was going to take him out to record stores and thrift shops, to wander around and enjoy being in the city, just like I did when I was a teenager.

The hardest thing about losing my baby brother has been the loss of our future together. I always dreamed about us becoming close friends, going to see his band play, giving him dating advice, and letting him crash at my place when he needed to escape our parents. The last time I saw him, I told him, “You know, you can come visit me anytime if those two are driving you crazy.” I meant it. God, did I mean it.

Though our relationship never blossomed into its full potential, I still have wonderful memories of Michael. Playing endless games of MarioKart or Monopoly with him when I was home for college breaks. Kayaking with our mom on the Ipswich River on hot summer days. Him filling my closet at home with plastic spiders as a prank. And, when he was a boy, dressing up in a tiny suit and tie for Thanksgiving dinner. He was a hilarious, quiet, and thoughtful kid who loved music and spending time with his friends. I wish I had known him better, and it’s a regret I’ll carry with me for the rest of my days.

The past ten years have brought so much change and growth in my life. I’ve lost jobs and gained new ones, learning so much about who I am in the process. I found love in one of the funniest, kindest, and most patient human beings on the planet, and got married to him during a beautiful ceremony in the mountains in 2017, during which we were surrounded by butterflies – a sign that my brother was right there with us. My grief, too, has changed and grown as I have. The pain has softened with time, and I’ve gained the ability to put my grief up on the shelf when I need to focus on other tasks, and take it down when I can give it the time and space it deserves. Still, it has the power to bring me to my knees, and I know that when those moments come, to take a deep breath and let those feelings come over me, knowing for certain that eventually, they will pass.

I try to incorporate things into my life that I know Michael would appreciate. My husband, Patrick, and I travel the world together, seeking out places of natural beauty like America’s National Parks and the Scottish Highlands. I never was much of a musician myself, but I pick up my ukulele from time to time, and I LOVE to sing karaoke. I try to give back to others, particularly through my volunteer work with Samaritans’ Grief Support Services.

I’ve been a volunteer with Samaritans since 2014, and facilitating the SafePlace meetings is something I absolutely cherish. I believe that being able to provide services to loss survivors during this dark and difficult time has helped me just as much as it has the other survivors who are searching for connection and understanding in the face of the impossible. More than ever, our meetings leave me feeling such warmth and admiration towards these incredibly strong and resilient survivors, and their ability to care so deeply for others when they are in such unfathomable pain.

This year, on the anniversary of Michael’s death, the sadness weighed heavily on my entire body, down to the bones, and the idea of trying to do anything at all that day felt impossible. Still, I managed to get dressed and go out for a walk around the neighborhood. Our family has always loved being outside in nature, and being in the fresh April air that day, even just for a few moments, felt like the best way I was able to honor his memory. It’s a strange time for grief right now. The whole world seems to be grieving; loved ones are dying from COVID-19, and people have lost their jobs, their businesses, their way of life. Not to mention the recent deaths of Black Americans at the hands of unethical police, and the constant reminders that systemic racism is rampant in this country. This is all to say that on top of all of this fresh pain, there is the old familiar pain of having lost someone I love and cherish dearly, suddenly and violently, without any answers or any way to prepare. However, the past decade has taught me that this pain too, will pass, especially if people are able to remember that human resilience comes from our ability to care deeply for one another.